Mental Health Bookclub discussion

The Shock of the Fall
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2017 Group Reads - Mental Health > June - The Shock of the Fall

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Martha (marthais) This month we'll be reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Some discussion questions:
- What did you think of the book? Likes/dislikes?
- Would you recommend it?
- The author was previously a mental health nurse. Do you think that his familiarity with the mental health system comes through in this novel? How?
- The author uses different fonts and interrupts the story with things like "STOP READING OVER MY SHOULDER" - what did you think of this? What was the author trying to do here?

message 2: by Jamaica (new)

Jamaica Youth | 5 comments hello! I read 'The Shock of the Fall' and was so glad that I did. It's really given me a lot to think about - I wonder if anyone else has any thoughts of the main character's mother? is it that the m.c. is an unreliable narrator and we just get the impression that his mom is mad? or is it a look at stigma and the spectrum of what we regard as mental illness and functioning that the Mom's own issues don't seem to be discussed? I know the doctor gives her a prescription early in the book... I found it a bit unsatisfying the way the story just wrapped up so easily and I didn't really believe that the character could suddenly just find peace and forgive and forget in that way? Like, he went from being really withdrawn to being confident enough to write familiar and jokey letters to his estranged relatives... It seemed a little simplistic to me... I read this book straight after reading 'Girl Interrupted' and I think Girl Interrupted does a lot more in terms of de-stigmatising the experience of mental health... the book is more grounded and less 'cutesy'? The film of Girl Interrupted is a long way from the book but that is another story... Looking forward to hearing what other people thought and thanks again for pointing me towards this book :) J

Martha (marthais) Thanks Jamaica, glad you enjoyed reading it!

I think the description of the Mum is a great spot - I wondered if she had Munchausen's by proxy because she seemed obsessed with getting him to the doctor all the time. Or that could have just been a result of her grief and not wanting to lose another son. It seems like she certainly had something. I found it interesting how the author seemed to blur the lines between mental illness and grief, and leaving the mother in an ambiguous state reflected that because you were never quite sure.

I know what you mean about him finding peace, although it had been a long time since his brother died so I suppose it didn't happen overnight...but I did also find it a bit simplistic and neat, and I agree that Girl Interrupted goes further with de-stigmatisation.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

message 4: by Jamaica (new)

Jamaica Youth | 5 comments Thanks Martha, yes! I totally thought "Munchausen by Proxy" too when the mom kept bringing him to the doctor and it did raise some good questions about grief, normal behaviour and what is termed 'crazy' by society... An aspect that I did relate to (in terms of my own mental health issues) and found more useful in creating understanding was when M described his illness as being able to learn things... I thought it was a good metaphor for how mental illnesses differ from physical ones ? In terms of how the impact on the persons ability to negotiate their environment... What did you think of the "culture and weather" metaphor? I didn't really get that as clearly... Great to have the discussion tho :) I've enjoyed hearing your view of it, J

Martha (marthais) Remind me about the culture and weather metaphor? I was very smug about myself getting a jump on the June book by reading it in May...and consequently I can't remember everything about it!

message 6: by Jamaica (new)

Jamaica Youth | 5 comments hello! sorry I went to work there and got distracted from the important things like book discussions ;)
The weather and climate metaphor comes back a few times but appears first in the chapter headed 'Prodome' on p67 in my copy... 'There is weather and there is climate.
If it rains outside, or if you stab a classmates's shoulder with a compass needle, over and over, until his white cotton school shirt looks like blotting paper, that is the weather.
But if you live in a place where it is often likely to rain, or your perception falters and dislocates so that you retreat, suspicious and afraid of those closest to you, that is the climate.'

I guess it is to do with specific actions taken V a tendency to hold beliefs that might lead to one taking the specific actions? ...and therefore mental illness being akin to living in a micro-climate within a larger climate?

More thoughts about this book! in response to your questions about the use of different fonts and how he interrupts the narrative flow to interrogate the reader or communicate directly with other characters as in 'STOP READING OVER MY SHOULDER' ... for me it kind of created this sense that the narrator was confiding in me, that he cared whether or not I understood his story, whether or not I was on his side... there is a two page chapter where he wonders whether or not he is being believed by the reader and ends with, 'This is my life. I'm nineteen years old, and the only thing I have any control over in my entire world is the way I choose to tell this story. So I'm hardly going to fuck about. It would be nice if you'd try to trust me.'
Which was kind of demanding! and looking back it seems like he is putting the reader in a position of authority over if the reader is in the position of 'therapist' or 'doctor' which has shades of that power dynamic stigma between mental health service users and doctors... but the power dynamic is unquestioned... which is like, hmm is this something a mental health nurse wouldn't think of because they've internalised the power dynamic as intrinsically 'right' ?
There is also the bit towards the end where he discusses with cynicism the switch between the terms 'patient' and 'service user'...
As a reader with mental health issues and wannabe author on those issues I am constantly questioning those power dynamics and I'm always looking for ways in which authorial power can restore power to the mental health service user (my preferred term!)...
I LOVE comparing and thinking about the differences between an autobiographical account of a mental health issue and a fiction and this book has given me so much to reflect on...
I was kind of disappointed to learn that the author was a mental health nurse and at the same time - it made sense - because of the 'cutesy' tone in which things were painted... and that wrapped up ending again - this is just not believable to me but it does strike me as the kind of story a mental health professional would need in order to keep their own sanity when they're clocking out and going home..? I went back over the book again and discovered that he says that he wrote those letters at the very beginning ! the first thing he wrote on the computer were those invitation letters before he started writing the story which becomes the book...

I find power dynamics and the tendency of the 'in power' class to obscure the power dynamic fascinating and I'm excited to see that the July book is Carol Gilligan's 'In a Different Voice' because it discusses that very thing!

Martha (marthais) Ah yes I remember thank you! Yes I found that a bit confusing, it's possibly a bit of a tenuous metaphor, but it's an interesting point about mental illness being like a micro-climate.

Great analysis! I wasn't really sure how I felt about the author being a mental health nurse. I know that before I read it, and so it then made sense to me that it was set in an institutionalised setting but part of me thought that a nurse would provide more of a nuanced portrait - but maybe it is as you say that they need to believe in a happy ending!

I don't really have a preference on the terminology, to be honest I don't like any of the options! Service-user feels incredibly impersonal to me...almost to the extent that it undermines the the reason why the service needs to be used. Like if I call up a Customer Service helpline to moan about my internet being crap (random example but it's happening to me this week!), I've used that service, so I am a service-user to them, but it's a small act of engaging with a service that I can take or leave. Thinking about mental health services, they're often a lifeline for the people using them, so even though it's completely logical language (in this sentence I'm saying 'service' and 'using'!) I almost feel like 'service-user' doesn't convey how critical it is. That it's almost not a choice of using it, I can't take it or leave it, because I need it. However, it's potentially the best of a bad bunch of terms, because I also think that it restores agency to the person using it rather than 'patient' which is much more passive and gives that unequal power balance.

How did you feel about the main character? I really struggled to relate to him in any way, and part of it seemed to be because I just couldn't imagine him as being 19 in my head. I had to keep reminding myself because I was picturing a much older man. Maybe it was illustrative of his childhood having been robbed by the death of his brother, his mum's mental health issues and then his own descent into Schizophrenia that it made him come across in a more adult way. It's weird in that the illness still gave him certain 'childish' qualities in the way he was relating to other people, and his inability to care for himself etc., so that just kind of jarred with me more. Maybe it was just a badly constructed character that I didn't like!

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